POLITICS: PennAve

House Veterans Affairs chairman warns 'no honeymoon' for Eric Shinseki's replacement

By and |
Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Veterans Affairs,Health Care,David M. Drucker,PennAve,Veterans,Eric Shinseki

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller warned Friday that Congress will intensify its scrutiny of the VA despite the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki.

The Florida Republican said “there will be no honeymoon period” for acting Secretary Sloan D. Gibson. Miller said he would push Gibson to rid the VA of the senior-level officials he believes are responsible for mismanagement.

“Sloan Gibson is a fine man, and I think he’s capable of handling the job,” Miller said. “But my comment to him will be the same: If your people lie to you, you will not be able to make the changes necessary to transform the agency.”

Miller has issued many subpoenas and requests to the agency for information related to the systemic mismanagement at many of the nation’s VA hospitals but has met resistance from employees, who he said have hired lawyers and clammed up.

Those officials, Miller contends, are behind hidden waiting lists, destroyed records and veterans waiting months for care, all of which forced Shinseki to leave office more than five years after taking on the task of trying to reform the VA.

Miller grilled senior VA officials on Wednesday at a three-hour hearing, criticizing them for holding back information requested by his committee.

Asked about Shinseki’s resignation, Miller said "it's a sad day" but he added that he had often warned Shinseki that he believed senior officials at the VA were not being truthful with him.

Shinseki, he said, has finally come to understand the problem.

“I believe he admitted as much today, that in his entire career he has never been lied to as much as he has been in this instance,” Miller said.

Miller and other House GOP leaders, meanwhile, have been increasing pressure on the Senate to take up a House-passed bill that would give the VA secretary the power to sidestep red tape and more quickly fire incompetent senior level officials.

Senate Democrats have blocked the bill for now and instead will debate a more comprehensive approach as early as next week, when Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., takes up several bills in committee that would reform the department.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called on the Senate to take up the House-passed bill and said President Obama should make the VA cooperate with Congressional investigators.

“One personnel change cannot be used as an excuse to paper over a systemic problem,” Boehner said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, called Shinseki's resignation a “meaningful initial step,” but said the GOP-passed legislation “wold help to fix this system that has so failed our veterans.”

Republicans also repeating calls to privatize some VA care in order to allow those veterans on waiting lists to get faster treatment.

Shinseki had already promised to allow some vets to seek private care, but many Republican lawmakers want to make it a more accessible option. Miller and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are among the lawmakers drafting legislation to privatize VA care.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., called on President Obama "to begin instituting immediately a workable Veteran Choice program that allows our brave men and women the choice to receive their care outside the VA and in the their local community."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., did not have an immediate comment about Shinseki's resignation of plans for Senate legislation addressing the VA.

Shinseki’s resignation comes after he rapidly lost the support of Congress.

For weeks, lawmakers in both parties had refrained from calling for his resignation, in part because of his respected resume. A four-star general and Vietnam veteran who lost his foot in combat, Shinseki was well-liked by lawmakers and Obama, and all seemed willing to give him time to reform an agency with problems that have dated back for decades.

But Shinseki’s support collapsed on Wednesday, and an interim report from the VA inspector general verified claims that the Phoenix VA had falsely shortened wait times that were on average 115 days. The report also found 3,000 veterans awaiting care, of which 1,700 were excluded from the official waiting list and essentially left in limbo.

Moments after the report became public, calls for Shinseki’s resignation came pouring in from both Republicans and Democrats.

Both Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who met with Shinseki this week, refrained from calling for Shinseki's resignation.

“The departure of Secretary Shinseki will not solve the systemic challenges within the VA and its medical facilities,” Pelosi said Friday. “It is up to all of us, in Congress and in the Administration. to review the facts, fix the problems, and improve our efforts to ensure veterans receive the care they need, when they need it.”

View article comments Leave a comment